It’s not your dad’s management anymore

Jane’s been guest posting over at the Lead Change Group blog (a place where you’ll regularly find lots of good insights, especially into character-based leadership) so you’ll find this article there, too!

leadership isn't a speciality areaYears ago I handled labor relations in a meat processing facility where every employee had a singular function. Someone ran the slicer, someone else the grinder, etc. Everyone knew and accepted the very narrow parameters imposed on their job duties.

An exchange with a client this morning prompted my walk down meat packing memory lane.

“Coaching problem employees isn’t my job.”

“Whose job is it?”

“That’s what HR does, not me.”

While there’s a whole host of rich topics embedded here, what jumped out first for me was how effortlessly this fellow had narrowed his area of leadership responsibility. The employees making the bacon had little choice in the scope of their duties given the machine they were assigned to run. This individual had constructed his own job boundaries, opting to make them narrowly focused on what he did best – metrics, results and schedules. He forgot about the people who make the results and numbers possible.

It’s heart-warming to read the results of IBM’s 2012 Global CEO study in which “CEOs regard interpersonal skills of collaboration (75 percent), communication (67 percent), creativity (61 percent) and flexibility (61 percent) as key drivers of employee success to operate in a more complex, interconnected environment.” Leadership isn’t a specialty area for one-way directives, tasks and numbers. (I’ll send out the memo to Wall Street and big business later this afternoon.) Leadership is a labor of love that encompasses both task completion and relationship fostering. It’s not an either/or proposition.

Are you a leader like my client who’s most comfortable focusing on results and aren’t sure how to bring more flexibility into your leadership interactions? If so, research and science provide guidance in learning to integrate the “paradoxes, tensions, and trade-offs inherent in the managerial job.”[1]

4 ways to bring flexibility into your leadership

1) Reframe how you think about your role. Many leaders tend to over-rely on a strength (say, driving for accomplishments) and under-use its opposite[2] (collaborating and creating cohesion). That’s when all sorts of problems arise because the over-used strength has now become a weakness. Here’s where you apply the Goldilocks principle of getting it just right – like skillfully pressing for results while treating people like people instead of machines.

2) Be kind and hold people accountable. A good leader expects his people to achieve their objectives; and when they fall short, the performance gap is discussed considerately so their self-esteem and self-worth remain intact. We all fall short from time to time and rarely benefit from being labeled an idiot or worse by an uncaring boss. It’s the leader who coaches us to better performance and who does so with compassion that we’ll follow off the cliff.

3) Understand it’s not your dad’s management anymore. Command and control may create short-term compliance at the expense of long-term resentment and disengagement. Awareness and agility are needed to deal with a world that’s constantly changing, perpetually connected and well-informed. An effective leader wants a broad repertoire of knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors in her toolkit.

4) It’s all about context. At some point in coaching programs and development workshops, someone typically points out that I’m advocating that they be inconsistent and manipulative. Puh-lease. I’ll concede that it does take more time, effort and awareness to be directive and flexible, decisive and sensitive. Recognizing that one-size-leadership doesn’t fit all circumstances isn’t being capricious, it’s being smart.

A character-based leader willingly incorporates the dualities of leading in a complex world – monitor and mentor, producer and facilitator, doing good and doing well. What say you?

Duality image from Unwrapping Minds


[1] Lindberg, Jennifer T. and Kaiser, Robert B. “Assessing the Behavioral Flexibility of Managers: A Comparison of Methods.” April 2004.

[2] Ibid.



Ambiguity is sometimes the right leadership answer

The meeting exchange was fascinating. Belle resisting giving Max the absolute answer he so clearly wanted; Max’s rising frustration with what he perceived as Belle’s wishy-washiness; and Belle’s explanation of how ambiguity is sometimes the right leadership answer.

Some business problems do have a black-and-white answer, like Is Sally ready to be promoted now?  Yet with experience comes the realization that there isn’t a clearcut answer to many of the issues leaders face.  To select one remedy is to select wrong because both answers are right. Sometimes our business needs speed and efficiency; other times achieving effectiveness takes a little longer. Leaders have to balance creating change while also maintaining stability.  Personally, we have to figure out how to prioritize both work and life demands.

Receiving end of ambiguity

When you’re hoping for a black-and-white answer and get a shade-of-gray response, it’s likely you’re facing one of those both/and leadership scenarios. If so:

Reframe your impatience and/or disdain into inquiry. Look for the bigger picture. Ask clarifying questions to understand why you received that response. Own digging in to understand the reasons behind the both/and answer.

Be willing to explore alternatives and contingencies. Possibilities that may have never occurred to you can be top of mind for someone else — and could be a critical, overlooked factor which impacts your decision-making.

Challenge yourself. Why is it that you always want a black-and-white answer. Are you seeking a quick fix? Are you reluctant to take a deeper look; and if so, why? Are you succumbing to quantity over quality? Are you putting the bottom line above principles and people?

Giving end of ambiguity

If you’re giving a both/and response to someone who obviously isn’t satisfied:

Explain your ambiguous answer. We all process information in our own way, so providing an explanation of how you reached your conclusions helps others understand your thought processes. Here’s your leadership opportunity to teach others how either/or isn’t always the appropriate solution.

Start a dialogue. Step back from command-and-control and seize the opportunity to expand each other’s point of view.

Be compassionate. The person who wants the definite answer isn’t wrong, so don’t treat them as if they are.  This isn’t the time for belittling remarks; it is the time for a teachable moment.

What both/and learnings do you have to share?



Collaboration is messy…4 reasons to go for it anyway

I used to tease Frank, an accountant where I worked some years ago, for his hope that life would track more like a balance sheet — all the ins and outs offsetting perfectly, all neat and tidy.

Truth is, neat and tidy rarely applies to life, love and leadership. Getting ‘em right is messy, time-consuming and requires real commitment. This reality surfaced recently in a chat with a colleague when he remarked collaboration was more trouble than it was worth.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ~African Proverb

Borrowing an acronym from the military, collaboration is full of VUCA - volatility, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity.  Yet, when a shared effort goes right, the rewards are well worth the trouble.

Collaboration: 4 reasons and realities to go for it

  • Collaboration is volatile - hang on, fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Multiple opinions, experiences, styles and preferences come into play when working with a group. Sure it’s a balancing and sharing act, yet the variety of inputs yields a richer outcome than what you could have produced alone.
  • Collaboration is full of uncertainty - what a great way to expand one’s comfort zone and sphere of knowledge. Unpredictability and surprise expose us to ideas and emotions we may not encounter on a singular journey; some are beneficial, some not. Yet all add to the breadth and depth of our experience.
  • Collaboration is complex - embrace it. It can be confusing, confounding, crappy and chaotic, too. Embrace them, too! Go it alone if you seek simplicity. If you and/or organization seek growth, engagement and innovation, pass out the waders and head for the deep end of the pool. That’s where the group can really challenge and support one another in the way to excellence.
  • Collaboration is ambiguous - add that tolerance to your toolkit.  Ambiguity is the breakfast of leaders. There’s no room in today’s complex world for cut-and-dried, black-and-white answers to everything. Many of the realities of business are dualities to be perpetually managed — things like stability and change, task and relationship, impose and facilitate. Success requires you to do both because they identify a relationship that’s ongoing and which raises issues that don’t go away. A diet of all stability leads to atrophy and demise; a feast of all change yields bedlam and uncertainty.

As Emmanual Gobillot writes in Leadershift, “traditional leader behavior that focuses on command and control becomes irrelevant.” Communal social power and transformational leadership rest on a base of collaboration. Ready to play?!



Research: Women in Business & The Paradox of Power


Researchers Also Detail What Corporations Must Do To Be Part of The Solution

A new paper, WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER, based on research by Jane Perdue of Braithwaite Innovation Group and Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting, reports that corporations are leaving money on the table and forgoing future success by failing to move more women into senior leadership roles. Perschel and Perdue also claim that businesswomen must prepare themselves to take on these executive roles by understanding and using power more effectively.

In their study, which involved hundreds of senior level businesswomen, Perdue and Perschel find that many women relate to power in ways that prevent them from attaining senior level positions, be it lack of confidence; cultural conditioning; or simply not understanding what power is. In-depth interviews with women who have attained the highest-level positions of influence reveal that they understood and used different approaches to gain power and make important changes to business culture and leadership practices.

Reshaping a male-dominated business culture, changing the ratio of women to men, and thereby improving bottom line results, requires a very specific set of actions by those currently in leadership positions as well as by women themselves.

What Women Must Do

Know power and be powerful: Perdue and Perschel define power as the capacity to get things done and bring about change. Not so for many of the research participants who think of power as “being in control at all times,” or “deciding and announcing,” among other misconceptions. Sixty-one percent of survey participants hold mistaken views about how to advance their power (and themselves). The authors emphasize that women must study power, understand power, and use their power to change the culture of business.

Ditch Cinderella: Over sixty percent of the participants preferred passive approaches to gaining power, opting to be granted access, rather than actively taking it. Unlike Cinderella, women cannot passively wait on the business sidelines, hoping business culture will change and hand them the most powerful decision making positions. Instead, they must seek power, advancing both the change agenda and their careers. As one executive vice-president who heads a $300 million dollar business advised, “The success police will not come and find you.”

Show up. Stand Up. Voice Up: Fifty-two percent of the barriers to power that participants identified are personal and internal, e.g., “what I need is a constant drip-feed of confidence.” With women comprising nearly forty-seven percent of the entire workforce, holding forty percent of all management jobs, and earning sixty-one percent of all master’s degrees, they are uniquely positioned to work towards dismantling legacy organizational barriers and stereotypes.

Forge strategic connections: Relationships are the currency of the workplace, yet sixty-seven percent of the women in Braithwaite & Germane’s study are not taking charge of building their networks. To fill more than the three percent of the Fortune 500 CEO positions they currently hold, women must become masters of strategic networking as well as building alliances and coalitions.

Unstick their thinking: Thirty-eight percent of participants opted for being well-liked rather than powerful. Perschel and Perdue contend this need not be a choice. Based on research conducted at Stanford University, women are uniquely capable of moving beyond such an either/or mindset. Leaders, both male and female, too often limit solutions by framing problems as a choice between two mutually exclusive options.

What Corporations Must Do

Make gender balance real: Having more women in senior leadership roles is correlated with a substantial increase in total return to shareholders, which is a performance metric for most CEOs. Why, then, do so many heads of companies fail to hire, develop, and promote women for clout positions on senior leadership teams? Executives at the highest levels must move beyond positioning gender balance as politically correct and giving it perfunctory lip service on the corporate agenda. If they are serious about gender balance, they must position it as a business imperative.

Remake leadership: Despite decades of efforts to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, the needle on this corporate metric has barely moved. Gender bias is prevalent in the very way leadership is defined – a take charge, have all the answers, aggressive style. Corporate leaders must change both the definitions and practices of leadership. Women will help them do so.

Walk the talk. Develop women leaders: Seventy-one percent of firms responding to a survey conducted by Mercer, the world’s largest human resource consultancy, do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy to develop women for leadership roles. As some of the approaches that work for men do not work as well for women, corporate leaders must invest in modifying these programs to develop women and then follow up with promotional opportunities.

About the authors. Jane Perdue is the Principal of Braithwaite Innovation Group, a female-owned professional development organization, and the creator of the new Women’s Leadership Institute for the Charleston, S.C. Center for Women. Dr. Perschel is known as “an unstoppable force advancing women leaders.” She is president of Germane Consulting – an executive coaching and organization development consultancy. Both have been featured as leadership and women’s issues experts in newspapers and magazines, as well as on television and radio.

Utilizing their research and relative corporate experience, Perschel and Perdue lead and advance aspiring professional women through mentoring, sponsorships, coaching, and development programs. By identifying key obstacles such as those uncovered in WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER, they help women and organization leaders identify the issues they must resolve to ensure cultural change and enable women to reach the highest pinnacles of success.



6 ways to get your leadership big on

The team at BIG isn’t big on new year’s resolutions. They’re gone faster than the time it takes for us to munch our way through a bag of gumdrops. We are big, however, on commitment. Commitment to personal improvement, ongoing learning, exploring, making a positive difference that lasts, and developing others. Why? Because when people feel confident, involved and valued…magic happens.

People build connections, character and confidence to lead BIG. They learn, take risks and work BIG. They inspire themselves as well as others to grow wings and embrace possibilities beyond what they thought or dreamed possible. They give back, believe in themselves and live BIG.

This kind of BIG has nothing to do with size and everything to do with heart…with meaning…with caring…with thinking more about we and less about me. 

Daniel Maher said “confidence is courage with ease.” Achieving this level of personal grace requires getting your BIG on. That means:

  • Understanding your strengths and knowing how to use that knowledge for leading, guiding, teaching and encouraging others
  • Knowing that the small things do make a BIG difference, so don’t be afraid to start small. The important thing is getting started
  • Recognizing that you may be holding yourself back from BIG things because you’re thinking small. Don’t be afraid to take the BIG leap forward toward your dreams - jump and grow your wings on the way up

Audrey Hepburn once said that “the best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” To help others get their big on,

  • Let them know that it’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK to hold back from trying because they’re afraid of failing.  That’s a lot like spending your life in a rocking chair. The ride may be comforting but you won’t get very far
  • Agree to be their accountability partner. Meet up periodically to learn what they’ve done, then encourage them to keep going
  • Help them embrace and practice the polarities of life: things like being both confident and humble or focused on both task and relationship

Grab some big, bold, brave thinking and start living your best life, full of confidence and courage…and help others do the same.

Here’s to you!



6 questions for getting unstuck

“I know we asked you to improve employee morale, but what you’re asking us to do is contrary to how we’ve handled promotions for the entire 25 years we’ve been in business!”

“So are you saying you want to back off the employee morale work?”

“Good heavens, no; we’re not saying that at all. You just have to find another way to do it, that’s all. Our company founder set up the procedures for awarding promotions, and we simply can’t change them. It’s too much a part of our company culture.”

Sound familiar?

Have you ever been involved in one of those “we’ve-always-done-it-that-way” discussions where the door gets slammed shut just as it starts to open?

Defending the status quo

If you have — and were on the side of defending the status quo — ask yourself:

  • Why is it so important to hang on? Is the reason for the practice/policy/belief still relevant or has it become a tradition that we accept without question?
  • What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen if the practice/policy/belief were to be stopped? Would we survive?
  • Do I have my ego, my sense of self-worth, tied up in this practice/policy/belief? What am I really defending?

Pushing for change

If you’re on the side that’s pushing for change, ask yourself:

  • Do I have all the necessary facts, information and support to build a case for a better way? Can I paint a clear vision of why this change must happen?
  • Have I engaged and connected with other stakeholders to determine if they are interested in change? Do I understand their motivations, their positions and their interests?
  • Is my ego pushing for change, any change, just for the sake of change? Or am I seeking a win-win outcome that improves the business, our employees and even me?

To hide behind “we’ve-always-done-it-that-way” as the exclusive reason for maintaining the status quo is to shut yourself off from fresh possibilities and improved outcomes.

To push for change just for the sake of change new runs the risk of unnecessary and unproductive chaos.

Change is a good thing, a necessary thing to drive win-win outcomes. What say you?


This Week’s Fav Leadership Reading

A Recipe for Appreciation (Susan Mazza, Random Acts Of Leadership)

Susan reminds us that “appreciation has two very important purposes – to let someone know you care and to let them know they matter” and goes on to offer a helpful three-part recipe for incorporating real thanks and gratitude into your daily actions. Most appropriate for the holiday season - and for every day of the year!

Authentic Leadership Development: Getting to the root of positive forms of leadership (by Bruce J. Avolio and William L. Gardner)

As we move into the beginning of the holiday season and the end of the year, it’s common to take stock of what we’re doing, being and becoming. If becoming a more authentic leader is something you’re noodling for making a positive difference in business, start here. This 2005 report from the inaugural summit on the topic as hosted by the Gallup Leadership Institute article details authentic leadership - what it is, how it’s different and how to practice it. There’s some fascinating reading here, and the links and references are a treasure trove of information.

Gratitude in Leadership: When Gratefulness Fuels Giving (Lisa Petrilli, C- Level Strategies - Visionary Leadership)

Stories bring such deep and meaning to leadership; and here Lisa shares a great story of being named Vice-President of the Indiana University Student Foundation, and how this experience taught her the power of gratitude.

Negotiating Challenges for Women Leaders (Harvard Business School Working Knowledge)

In both my corporate and entrepreneurial careers, this issue surfaces over and over again: women actively advocating other others yet remaining silent and/or holding back when the situation calls for negotiating on their own behalf. No doubt, it’s a double bind situation: speak up and be labeled aggressive; fail to negotiate for yourself and fall behind in earnings, etc. Chew on this nugget from this article: “That research shows that in conditions of ambiguity, if you bring men and women into the lab and you say either one of two things: “Work until you think you’ve earned the $10 we just gave you,” or “Work and then tell us how much you think you deserve,” the women work longer hours with fewer errors for comparable pay, and pay themselves less for comparable work. But if there’s a standard [that men and women know], then this result goes away.”

Moon Shots for Management (Gary Hamel, Harvard Business Review, February 2009)

At Get Your BIG On, we’re big on polarities – those both/and scenarios that seem contradictory yet are interdependent and both necessary. Things like being confident and humble, well-liked and powerful. In this article Gary Hamel itemizes a whole host of polarities necessary to revitalize management (another fav topic of ours!). Which of the 25 grand challenges resonates the most with you? Share your thoughts for an upcoming LeadBIG post.

Inspiring thought of the week: “I urge you to: trudge not through life leaving ugly gashes, tiptoe not through life leaving half-formed impressions; but tread gently, lovingly and purposefully, leaving graceful heart-prints.” ~Unity Dow, the Botswana High Court Judge


3 ways to make sure compromise isn’t a 4-letter word

Gosh, I didn’t get the memo. Did you? You know, the one that says compromise isn’t an acceptable option? I’ve always thought compromise is a natural part of life, love and leadership.

Somewhere along the line, it seems to me that compromise (defined by Merriam-Webster as a settlement of differences by consent reached through mutual concessions, one of those “playing well in the sandbox” skills my mom taught me) got confused with capitulation or collusion.  Today, compromise is portrayed as selling-out or being a weakling.

Life (and my mom!) taught me to know what’s illegal, immoral and unethical. Not compromising one’s values and beliefs there makes perfect sense, yet many of the situations we face every day don’t reach that status. Expecting to get one’s way all the time, on everything especially on things that aren’t illegal, immoral and/or illegal, is a recipe for gridlock and an unhappy life. Aren’t most things about give-and-take? Isn’t life richer that way?

So the next time you’re faced with a situation when you aren’t the sole decision-maker, and you feel your spine getting stiff and you attitude getting rigid, stop and reflect on what real compromise is.

Real compromise is…

Sharing in both the process and the result. Compromise isn’t about domination and/or submission. It’s about an informed and intentional process in which two parties put everything on the table, have a frank dialogue, and jointly discover and/or create a solution that serves the best interests of both.

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious. ~Sun Tzu

Being flexible on what’s a “must have” versus what’s nice to have. I once had an employee who went to the mat on using Times New Roman font in a training manual when the rest of the project team preferred Arial!  Being willing to collaborate with others, to play in their sandbox and they in yours, usually results in a richer outcome than one could have produced on their own. Plus there’s an added benefit of broadening your horizons based on learning from others.

Every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. ~Edmund Burke

Willingness to think in broader terms of “we” and “others” rather than  just “me” or “I.” Most of us bring distinct ideas of how we want things to be. Yet it’s important to be able to distinguish between “mission critical” components where’s little to no wiggle room and those items on which there’s space to flex.

A project manager who is willing step back from the team and allow others to add their ideas, as well as their labor, to make the project come along may sacrifice her own pet ideas for the good of the whole. That is compromise of the highest order. And it is also known by another name – leadership. ~CIO Magazine

What say you?